FORT DODGE - A jury found Tracey Richter guilty Monday morning of first-degree murder in the Dec. 13, 2001, shooting death of Dustin Wehde, 20, of Early.
At the time, Richter, now 45, said she was the victim of a home invasion. She said she was attacked by two men who tried to strangle her with pantyhose. Richter said she was protecting herself and her three young children when she shot Wehde nine times with two guns.
Prosecutors told a different story; they maintained Richter had helped author writings in a pink spiral notebook that implicated Richter's first ex-husband in a plot to kill her and the couple's son. Dr. John Pitman III was embroiled in a custody battle with Richter over their then-11-year-old son, Bert Pitman. Prosecutors said Richter, who was married to Early businessman Michael Roberts, was trying to gain an advantage in custody proceedings and continue to receive $1,000 a month in child support.
- Daily Freeman-Journal photo by Hans Madsen
Tracey Richter, center, is supported by defense attorney Karment Anderson, left, and Scott Bandstra, right, after being found guilty of first-degree murder in Webster County District Court Monday morning. Richter was convicted for the Dec. 13, 2001 shooting of Dustin Wehde in her Early, Iowa home.
Defense attorneys suggested Roberts might have been involved in the alleged home invasion. They also suggested the possibility that a man with whom Dustin Wehde's mother was having an affair, might have been the second intruder.
Richter, who had since moved to the Omaha area, was charged with murder earlier this year. Her trial was moved to Webster County at the request of her attorneys.
Sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 5 in a Fort Dodge courtroom. The sentence for first-degree murder is life in prison without parole. Jurors could have found Richter guilty of a lesser charge, second-degree murder.
Defense attorney Scott Bandstra told the court he would move for a new trial. He declined comment as he left the courthouse.
Richter buried her face in her arms after the verdict was read.
"It was a blessing," said Dustin Wehde's mother, Mona Wehde, following Monday's verdict, which she called "justice for Dustin."
"I knew that was what we should get. We thank everybody for their prayers, and God, and the jurors for seeing through the lies and hearing the truth. That's what we all waited for," Mona Wehde said.
Years ago, Mona Wehde said, she had heard her son's file was on a shelf, and she thought, "It doesn't matter. Nobody cares," and that was very hard.
However, everything changed about three years ago, she said, when she received a Christmas Eve phone call from Division of Criminal Investigation Special Agent Trent Vileta, who said he was investigating the case.
"We're really happy that the jury got it right," said Brad Wehde, of Fort Dodge. "It doesn't appear it was that difficult for them to get it right. That means a lot."
Brad Wehde's brother, Brett Wehde, was Dustin Wehde's father. Brett Wehde committed suicide in the aftermath of his son's murder.
"The verdict is not going to bring Dustin or Brett back," said Sac County Attorney Ben Smith, who initiated charges against Richter and was involved in her prosecution. He told members of the Wehde family that the verdict helped renew his sense of faith in the legal process, and he hoped it would do the same for them - albeit 10 years later.
Although defense attorneys attacked the investigative efforts of the DCI and local law enforcement, Smith said investigators "spent untold hours looking" for a second intruder.
"We put on as strong a case as we could, and a jury of her peers, based on the evidence, sided with the state," he said.
Smith relayed the verdict via telephone to Assistant Iowa Attorney General Doug Hammerand, who led the prosecution. Hammerand was trying a case in Story County Monday. Smith said he was "ecstatic," and told Hammerand, "We could not have done this without you."
Smith said he has devoted the last five months to preparing for this case.
"I've been doing nothing but this, literally nothing but this," Smith said.
He said upon taking office, after defeating incumbent Sac County Attorney Earl Hardisty, "I knew. I was convinced right away (this case) needed to get before a jury."
Hardisty, who did not bring charges during his six years in office, testified for the defense and was among witnesses who suggested law enforcement had done a poor job of investigating the shooting.
Jurors began deliberating at about 2 p.m. Friday afternoon. They recessed around 6 p.m. Friday night and resumed deliberations at 9 a.m. Monday. Announcement that they had reached a verdict was made around 10:30 a.m.